Dragon Age II Demo

As news of Dragon Age 2 has trickled out over the last six months or so I have not been completely at ease with it. With the sequel to a game I adored (some would say obsessed over) changing many of its aspects there were all sorts of warning flags being waved in various corners of my subconscious.

Not only does your character change from being an anonymous, unspeaking Grey Warden to an analogue of Mass Effect’s Commander Shephard, the game’s art style gets a complete reworking and combat has been ‘tweaked’.  That last affecting PC gamers more than those playing on their consoles.

Having now run through the Dragon Age 2 demo that has been released this week a couple of times, once on PS3 and PC, I thought it might be an idea to share my opinions on those changes for those of you who might not get the chance to try the demo before the games release.

The first of my concerns, your character being less of your own creation and more the star of BioWare’s story, turns out to be a complete non-issue.  Perhaps due to the long hours I’ve spent with Mass Effect lately it just feels right and grounds you firmly in the centre of the story.

Sure, I’m going to miss playing through the origins stories and seeing how they send ripples through the main story and colour later interactions with other characters but if any developer knows how to weave an involving story it’s BioWare.

For all my initial worries about the slightly cartoon-y look of those early screens I’ve really warmed to the new art style during the few hours I’ve spent with the demo though I’m not entirely sure why.  The look of Dragon Age: Origins reminded me very much of Baldur’s Gate and the like whereas the sequel has a much fresher look as it sets out to carve its own graphical identity.

My one gripe about the new style is the substantial redesign of characters that appeared in the first game.  One ‘transformative’ cameo from a character Dragon Age fans will know well sees them sporting a new look that is much more ‘high fantasy’ than their appearance in Origins.

Maybe the new look characters will grow on me.  One thing (actually several pairs of things) that seems to have grown in the demo is the upper limit of the size of the chest adornments some of the women are sporting.  I have a difficult time picturing the duellist Isabela being particularly nimble and agile in combat with the inertia her adornments would accumulate!

The graphics engine itself performs a lot better on the PS3 than it did in the previous game with the frame rate, while not constant, remains much more stable during the demo than it did in Origins.  There were times when you could count the frames as they went past in DA:O which also led to the game missing controller inputs.

The engine and art style combine to produce some pretty great looking effects when spells are being thrown around.  Combat animations are also much improved with some great finishing moves.  Now about that combat…

Of all the changes that have been made to Dragon Age 2 it is those, both rumoured and actual, to the combat that have generated the greatest number of words on The Internet.  Having played both Origins and the demo on both PS3 and PC I’m not entirely convinced by the new combat, though my concern has shifted platform.

On the PS3 I played through the demo as a rogue who favoured dual blades over the bow.  The controls are pretty much identical to those in Origins which is good.  The improved animations mentioned above also lend a much more fluid and varying appearance to the on-screen action.

The one thing I didn’t like, which is possibly simply down to to the fact I will have to change my play style slightly, is the way your character can now launch themselves into combat with the next wave of enemies.

In Origins your character would run over to the next wave, taking time and giving you a momentary pause without actually using the ability to pause the action.  In the new system my rogue would perform a flying leap at the next wave when commanded to attack them making combat against many small waves much more incessant.  I’m not sure I like that.

It’s PC gamers who have had the most worries about changes to combat, but it turns out that playing through the demo on the PC as a mage there’s only one I noticed.  For all the scare stories of Dragon Age 2 being ‘dumbed-down’ on the PC it felt and played, for me, just like Origins.

As they were on the PS3, the controls seem much the same and of course being a PC game you can always remap them if you’d prefer them another way.  I found myself enjoying the more tactical combat possible on the PC as much as I did in Origins, with one caveat;  I wish you could still zoom out to the almost top-down, wide-angle view that you could in Origins, but I didn’t iss it as much as I thought I would.

There are other changes to the game, most seemingly imported from Mass Effect like the dialogue selection ‘wheel’ and the menu used to access your journal, character statistics and inventory (which is locked in the demo).  It’s hard to call something BioWare have changed to be more like Mass Effect a criticism though.

I normally avoid any demo for an RPG but I wanted to play this one to assuage my concerns about the sequel to a game that I loved.  I’m feeling a lot happier about the sequel landing on my doormat in a couple of weeks now.  I’ll be even happier though if it turns out Leliana got a cameo role too…



  1. I wasn’t a big fan of Origins, though I beat it a couple of times. I like the fluidity of combat in DA2, though it will take some getting used to. The graphics aren’t a huge leap from the original, but the animations seem to be much better.

    • I liked the combat too because in this kind of fighting system it has to be more action oriented and faster paced although i still think the best fighting system is in the older PSOne games like FF and Legend of Dragoon i still remember cursing the longer attack “combos” in that game since you had to press x at the right times ah those were the days :)

  2. I didn’t play the first one, and my first impression of the demo was ‘Mass Effect Dark Ages’, but with inferior graphics.

  3. Having never played the first Dragon Age game, I can’t compare the two, but from what I had heard of the first, and the hype over the second I started the demo with high hopes.
    My conclusion: a waste of 1500Mb. Absolutely dreadful. The graphics wouldn’t look out of place on a PS2 game, the character sprites look terrible during cut scenes, and the dialogue coming out from those sprites is some of the most boring since MW2. I usually listen to the cut scenes, but getting toward the end of the demo I just wanted them to end. The only possible good thing about this game is that the gameplay is quite decent.
    Maybe I expected too much, but I was greatly disappointed. After playing Mass effect 2, this game is horrible. (I’m a fan of rpg)

    • Hmmm, I wasn’t really interested in this game but I thought I’d download and try it to help unlock those things for the people who want it.
      I noticed how the blood graphics were quite glitchy, and there was no constant frame rate, although it never dropped really low.
      I thought, i suppose its a large are to render, but then I’d played Killzone 3 the day before (played the DA2 demo Thursday) and remembered how the the environment was just as large, AND had more in it!
      I think Bioware make their best games when they aren’t rushed, so Developing this in a year and a half, while the programmers were also working on the Mass effect 2 PS3 release, and Some initial work on Mass efect 3(which I also tink will be rushed if it comes out this year).

  4. it’s nice to actually hear your hero speaking, that is one definite area of improvement.

    overall i think i’m going to enjoy the game, a lot.

    it would have been nice if the demo didn’t take 20 minutes to install, though that was probably the ps3 and not the demo’s fault.

    • The PC demo took a while to install too. I grabbed nibbles, a drink and did something else during those minutes.

  5. Great stuff, Greg. Played it yesterday and will give it another go today. I’m enjoying the PC version and I really feel that it’s managed to find a happy middle ground so it pleases all platforms.

    The general slickness of presentation, menu systems and all round fluidity has been hugely improved. Kudos to them for finding this balance.

  6. I was never big on the original Dragon Age, but I have to admit, that demo has really made me want to play the full game.

  7. Sadly, I can’t say I really liked the demo to be honest. It’s strange considering the high praise I give the Mass Effect series. I’ll give it another go later today.

  8. I really enjoyed the demo, although the melee combat was a bit to hack-and-slash for me. However I really liked how the mage now handles, spells are a lot more easy to cast, and I love the big area effect spells.

    The menu system has been overhauled and it’s a lot easier to get where you need to go. The new “Level Up” screen is a lot better.

    The new art style is great. However I’m a bit wary of the re-invention of some of the Origins characters.

  9. I found the character movement disappointing. The character animation did not seem to tie in with the actual movement across the scene Its as if you “float” along.

  10. Compared to most of the other posters so far, I would consider myself a DA fan. I played the game so many times I lost count and bought all the DLC but unlike a lot of other people I wasn’t too concerned about changes until I played the demo. The menus were clearer and I liked being able to upgrades during combat too.

    I’ll start with the plus points. I enjoyed the fighting more and it lends itself to console play more than the original. I also prefer the dialogue options a la Mass Effect so you don’t know what your character will say exactly.

    Now the negative points. Really not a fan of the new graphical style, a bit too cartoony for me. Speaking of the graphics, they really are quite poor, seeing as this game is released well after ME2 it doesn’t even touch it. Now my biggest concern: losing all the different races is not a great start for an RPG is it and the actual classes look very watered down too. Looking at the upgrade options for the mage there were only ice and fire spells; what happened to earth and lightning? I hope it’s just a demo thing but it seems the full game will be like this.

    So overall, I was very underwhelmed and can only hope the game is much improved over the demo. I’m sure the story will be great but I was hoping for a progression over the whole world rather than a retelling of the first game, but how much it is built upon is still to be seen I guess.

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